Over an hour before sunrise and Jean Dodson Peterson, associate professor of viticulture, has already arrived at Cal Poly’s newly redeveloped vineyards with her headlamp in tow. Although cool now, she knows temperatures are expected to soar by midday. Getting an early start is essential to gathering the data she is after.
Waiting for her students to arrive, she methodically assembles a portable gas exchange meter used for collecting photosynthetic rates and stomatal conductance data from the research vines. Dodson Peterson and her students are among the first cohort to utilize the new vineyards. Six years earlier, the decision was made to remove the existing commercial- style vineyard and re-establish the space with teaching blocks and production blocks due to aggressive disease presence in the vineyard. Now the almost 13-acre vineyard is home to vineyard blocks specifically designed to facilitate the Wine and Viticulture (WVIT) Department’s enhanced curriculum and foster a unique learning environment for the almost 300 students concentrating in viticulture, enology or wine business.
The Paul Fountain teaching vineyard includes rootstock, wild species, table and wine grape demonstrations, as well as training, rotational and research blocks. The demonstration blocks are used for grapevine identification, assessment of growth factors and sensory comparisons. In all, there are 52 wine grape cultivars, 30 rootstock selections, 26 table grape cultivars, and 10 wild species with which students can engage.
These demonstrations are used primarily in the yearlong Advanced Viticulture Lecture/Laboratory series. The rotational vineyard consists of 15 rows. Every year, three new rows are planted and the oldest three are removed. In the Vineyard Management course, students utilize this block to explore new vine establishment, training and trellising during the first five years after planting. The rootstock research block supports senior projects designed to integrate with faculty-driven, grant-funded projects. The production vineyard includes three blocks of Pinot noir and a block of Chardonnay. The grapes from these blocks are divided between the commercial wine program, the wine production course and student research projects.
“It is inspiring to know that our alumni, the local industry and our administration have come together to provide overwhelming support to our department and this vineyard,” Dodson Peterson said. “Having the opportunity to work with this talented group of students, in this space, is truly something special. I am thrilled to see our students engage in learning outside the classroom and leap at opportunities to explore viticulture research.”
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